Numbers 21:4-9 The law of faith
I am going to write a famous mathematical and scientific equation on the board that all of you would be aware of: E=mc2 This is Einstein’s law of relativity, and don’t ask me what it really means! However, what I do know is its a formula to acknowledge that energy and motion have constant principles; they always operate in the same predictable way, time after time after time. Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light. It’s a principle, a law, a set order of creation that is predictable and when calculated, has predictable results.
I have another not so famous equation. In fact it has never seen the light of day until I thought of it! It is a calculation that, like Einstein’s law, gives us a formula to acknowledge the constant and predictable reason for us complaining about God. Unlike Einstein’s law of relativity, my formula is rather a simple one: C=ur2; Complaining against God = unbelief multiplied by rebellion. This is a constant law, it never changes. We complain because we don’t trust God and rebel against his ‘way’ of doing things.
Let’s see the equation at work in the story of the bronze snake.
The Israelites travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food! C, the ‘complaining’ was the outcome of their unbelief and want for rebellion against God; C=ur2.
The writer of Hebrews uses this equation to explain why most Israelites never entered the Promised Land ‘Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.’ Complaining is the sign of unbelief and rebellion, and it is the true reason why God forbid them to enter the ‘rest’.
Don’t we all though? Complain in unbelief and rebellion to the church and to God, when our life doesn’t go to plan; when God makes our life uncomfortable. We complain because its like God is leading us into a wilderness along a wondering path, and we are going nowhere in life. Like the Israelites, we complain, because of our unbelief and rebellion against what God is doing, as the simple equation shows. Yet, how does someone as good as Jesus, as good as our Father in heaven who saved us through sending his Son to the cross to be crucified for our rebellion and unbelief, provoke such a bad reaction in us; so much complaining about him?
For an answer, we need to look to John 1 verses 4-5 In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.’ Light shining in the darkness is a big theme in John, in fact he speaks about the light of Jesus 23 times. In Jesus, God’s light and life comes into the world. However, people, you and I, respond to the light of God’s love in Jesus like moths or bats. Some -like moths- are attracted to Jesus, receive Him, and find the joy of believing in Jesus and living life with Jesus.
Others are like bats. When light is shone into their darkness they get agitated… and react with unbelief and rebellion and so complain.
• Sometimes it’s because we don’t like Jesus lifting the lid on our hearts. There’s messy stuff in there that we hide -even from ourselves. So we paper mache over our faults and weaknesses and try to be “good people”. Truth is we need cleansing and healing; we need the light of Jesus.
• Sometimes it’s because we’re comfortable; and like Caiaphas the high priest, who wasn’t concerned about Jesus one way or the other, we don’t won’t to be disturbed.
• Sometimes, we’re afraid of the changes that might happen if we take Jesus seriously.
• And sometimes it’s because we’re angry with God about bad stuff that’s happened to us in the past.
But here’s the key: when we live in unbelief and rebellion and reject the light of Jesus, we still find ourselves in darkness; wondering around like the Israelites in the desert; complaining because we cannot see where God is leading us; complaining because we hate the darkness. The light of Jesus has come into the world and this is good news that leaves us with a new equation, the old one, the one I just developed has been overturned.
Jesus says: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world… whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” The truth of Jesus, his death on the cross, gives light and hope for us. Jesus has given himself so that we may believe in him and leave the darkness and walk in the light of God’s love.
Regardless of how we’ve reacted to Jesus in the past, or where we’re at with God at the moment, we may still be complaining, this is Jesus’ offer to you and it still stands ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’ Jesus on the cross suffering and paying for our sins is the light in our darkness; the light that dispels all complaining because Jesus invites us to believe and receive the light of eternal life. E=mc2. Eternal life = faith multiplied by the man on the cross.
While it’s easy to blame the Sanhedrin for the murder of Jesus, the truth is that we are all partly responsible for his death. One of Robin Mann’s songs, When Our Life Began Again, hits this home in verse 3. It recounts the scene of the cross.
Women wept to see him; He said: “Don’t weep for me.”
Many laughed and mocked Him: “Forgive them they don’t see.”
Jesus, please forgive me, You know what I am;
I was one who nailed Your hands
When our life began again. (All Together Again, # 147)
It is for each one of us that Jesus dies; and in his death our lives begin again. God does not conquer us with political might, but woos us with sacrificial love. The passion of God for you, for me, won’t have it any other way. Jesus is the light of the world, a light in our life. By faith in the man on the cross, you have eternal life. Amen